HISTORY 1601E October 5th, 2010
HISTORY – LECTURE 04
THE QIN AND HAN DYNASTIES
Unification under Qin (221 BCE)
o Qin unified all the Chinese warring states in 221 BCE
o State based on Legalist principles, harsh punishment
o Emphasis on military and agriculture
o Qin King declared himself ruler of “all under Heaven”
o Took title of “First Emperor of Qin”
o Legalism applied throughout new empire
o Qin system of impersonal laws and taxation also applied – very much a culture shock for the
other states who were not used to Legalism and such harsh punishment
o Mutilation as punishment – losing nose, an ear, a limb, castration, and then even harsher
punishment—being sent to work on the Great Wall, etc. Thousands of deaths.
o Arms in former rival states confiscated
o Empire divided into 42 commanderies (civilian administration and military administration)
o Aristocracies of rival states forced to live in the Qin capital, being able to watch over their
enemies and kept them confined to the capital so they would not have power anymore. Tight
o Legalism stressed uniformity, everyone has to be the same, policies have to be the same.
o Standardisation of weights and measures, coinage, writing, and transportation. They banned all
other currencies, melted them down for use somewhere else, and installed the use of their
coinage which was the round one with the square hole in the middle. In addition, all the other
variation of characters for writing was eliminated and the Qin standardized their one writing
style to all the others.
o Gave cohesion to the new empire and provided the basis of traditional culture.
o Qin administration abhorred possibilities of any alternate centres of power.
o Most infamous policy was the burning of all non-Legalist philosophical and historical books in
o Resisting scholars were banished or executed.
Decline of the Qin… HISTORY 1601E October 5th, 2010
o Qin emperor obsessed with secrecy, personal longevity, and endless expansion of power.
Beginning of mass exploration as he tries to find the Island of the Immortal.
o Wars did not stop, they needed war to continue in order to keep control, but it was expensive
for agriculture, military resources and deaths.
o Alienated his subjects
o Died in 210 BCE – highly possible that in the potions he had people create in order to find a long-
living potion there was mercury, liquid metal, which makes a person lose all sane function.
o Chaos after the emperor died led to court rivalries and peasant rebellions.
Destruction of Qin – 206 BCE…
o Various bands arose in the former kingdoms.
o Xiang Yu, from Chu, enthroned a Chu prince as emperor and declared himself as hegemon king
(king of kings) in 206 BCE.
Rise of the Han…
o Liu Bang’s forces arose in the Wei river valley in 207 BCE
o Defeated Xiang Yu in 202 BCE
o Liu Bang declares himself emperor of the new Han dynasty
o Capital set up in the Changan (modern Xian)
o Empire would last until 220 CE
o The Han preserved Qin’s centralising reforms, but removed the harshness from government.
o Reduced severity of punishments and taxes.
o Distributed lands to those who helped the Han.
o Establishment of efficient bureaucracy
o Empire ruled over a population of 40 million people